Lil Nog Injured: Inside MMA’s Most Repeated Headline
By Derek Suboticki, November 7th, 2013
While last weekend’s tremendous rematch between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez captured the hearts, minds and eyes of approximately 1.4 million viewers, it didn’t alter my calculus regarding 2013′s best fight. That title, in my mind, still belongs to Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165, as my equation includes multipliers for relevance and stage. Rather than making an immediate rematch – as seems obvious in the case of a Chandler-Alvarez rubber match – the UFC opted to slate Glover Texieira as Jones’ next opponent while stipulating that Gustafsson would secure a rematch with a win. His scheduled opponent? Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, known affectionately (and in reference to his heavyweight twin brother) as Lil Nog.
Everyone (and by everyone, of course, I’m referring to a teeny tiny minority of MMA fans) knows the story by now; less than a week after the bout agreement, Nogueira announced he would be unable to compete, citing a lingering back injury. How lingering? Well, to be frank, Nogueira’s back might be among his healthiest, most reliable body parts. Since the preemptive disintegration of Affliction (and a one-off for Jungle Fight against Dion Starting) in 2009, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira has participated in five UFC fights, and yet has a .500 batting average when it comes to actually competing in signed bouts. If you’re playing Battleship, that’s amazing. If you’re fighting for a living, it’s sub-optimal.
Let’s take a trip down Memory Lane, which happens to share a cross street with Horrible Luck Avenue.
HIT! UFC 106 – Lil Nog made his UFC debut in bonus-worthy fashion. Pitted against Luiz Cane – who had, a year before, vanquished one of Nogueira’s ghosts in Rameau Sokoudjou – our protagonist scored a direct hit on a cruiser that, until that point, hadn’t shown a gaping defensive gap susceptive to attacks directed at its last flank. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Cane’s crippling weakness against southpaws (he would lose three of his next four to lefties en route to his UFC exit) made Nogueira look like a 205 contender. But Battleship can be a cruel mistress.
MISS! UFC 109 – In an attempt to capitalize on Nogueira’s KOTN (KOOTN? Or do we treat “knockout” as a single work? I’m undecided), he was quickly slotted by the UFC into a match-up three months later against perennial multi-weight disappointment Brandon Vera. Now, this wasn’t a result of wear and tear or firing at E5 after hitting on A2 – rather, Lil Nog fell victim to a fractured ankle while preparing for the bout. Can’t make a Luke Rockhold paper-mache joints or Tito Ortiz osteoporosis joke here, although I suppose, in many ways, I did anyway. Fortunately, the fracture didn’t hold Minotouro out for long.
HIT? UFC 114 – It’s not like Lil Nog is the only guy to get injured. His scheduled opponent for 114, Forrest Griffin, pulled out of the fight with a shoulder injury in what would become a recurring theme later on for his stranded opponent. For those that don’t remember, Griffin engendered conspiracy theories later on with his statements that Lil Nog, as a southpaw boxer with excellent Jiu Jitsu, represented a horrible style match-up the likes of which Forrest hadn’t endured since that time he fought Neo. Instead of the former light heavyweight champion, Nogueira was given… Jason Brilz. Brilz was coming off of a 1-1 run against Eliot Marshall and Eric Schafer; he was a heavy underdog. His unexpectedly competitive performance – earning the victory on one judge’s scorecard and sinking in a guillotine choke that came within a couple thousand oxygen molecules of being successful – was the primary factor in Lil Nog’s second consecutive OTN (I believe that’s correct) bonus, this one for F (this as well). Oh, and the question mark – because I still don’t know how to score this fight. Rewatch it sometime.
HIT! UFC 119 – Injury-free and undefeated in the UFC, Minotouro was set up against TUF winner and 205 wrestleboxer (that’s a trademarked term, by the way) Ryan Bader at UFC 119 Indianapolis 1 or whatever they called it. Given the brothers Nogueira and their collective success against takedown artists with sub-par jiu jitsu, Lil Nog was given the nod by Vegas bookmakers and most professional handicappers. However, Bader’s smothering physical dominance and ability to hold his own in the striking department earned him a fairly clear unanimous decision victory.
HIT! UFC Fight Night 24 – This could be considered a miss. It’s like when you hit that cursed PT boat and waste 20 turns trying to scorch the sea around its corpse. Scheduled to fight Tito Ortiz, he of the aforementioned low bone density, Nogueira’s original foil instead succumbed to a cut suffered during training. Instead, Lil Nog ended up facing another up-and-coming physical specimen with wrestling credentials – and THIS one was even more athletically explosive than Bader. In what would end up becoming a trend, Phil Davis frustrated a Brazilian striker en route to a decision win. Nog is now 2-2 in the UFC with one questionable decision win and, arguably, one questionable loss.
MISS! UFC 133 – Now that I’m looking back at the record, I’m really disappointed this one didn’t happen: Lil Nog was supposed to fight Rich Franklin. That would have been great. I’ll take Rich Franklin against scrappy Brazilians all day long, thank you. This is the first appearance of Minotouro’s loathsome, “lingering” shoulder injury. To add insult to injury, the main event featured Rashad Evans beating the crap out of Tito Ortiz, which, remember, was supposed to be Nog’s job. But fear not!
HIT (TO THE BODY)! UFC 140 – Revenge! Our game of Injured Fighter Phone Tag finally comes to an end as Nogueira finally gets his hands on Tito Ortiz and batters his midsection en route to a TKO victory. It wasn’t Evans kneeing Ortiz in the sternum like he was a troublesome gate on some lady’s backyard (well, ma’am, I can’t mow back there if I can’t get back there, can I?), but it was still very, very good. 3-2 now.
MISS! UFC on Fuel TV 2 – Oh man, remember Fuel TV, you guys? And Versus! Oh, Versus holds a special place in the heart of the Colorado sports fan. Anyway. This was supposed to be against… Alexander Gustafsson! Now, even back then, people saw this as typical combat sports matchmaking, wherein the old, credible veteran is brought to the funeral pyre and publicly immolated as a sacrifice to the NEW GOD. This time, Nogueira’s knee, upon seeing film of the Mauler and noticing that everything else was working pretty well, took it upon itself to remove its owner from the bout.
MISS! UFC 161 – Probably the worst miss of all. One of the best things about Zuffa buying PRIDE is that millions of people were able to see Antonio Rogerio Nogueira go to war with Shogun Rua via Spike reruns. Oh, who am I kidding – that’s, like, maybe in the top 15 best things about Zuffa buying PRIDE. BUT. Nogueira’s Goddamn back prevented the fight from happening, removed Rua from the 161 card altogether, and led to Shogun’s submission loss to Chael Sonnen. Shogun’s submission loss to Chael Sonnen. My fingers feel like they’re on fire – they’re rebelling against being forced to type that phrase.
MISS! UFC 2,338 – Isn’t that how it feels? It’s not often that fights are made so far in advance (Gustafsson-Nogueira was announced, in late October, for early March), so it’s necessarily even more rare that fights are cancelled/pulled out of so long before their planned culmination. Nevertheless, Lil Nog didn’t even pretend to be in shape to begin preparing anytime soon, and waited a mere five days before announcing his withdrawal on Halloween. Why he signed the contract to begin with is anyone’s guess.
This truth is actually a stroke of luck for Nogueira; up until now, the only fans knowledgeable about his injury-plagued UFC career are the same ones that remember his amazing tilt with Shogun, his submission of Dan Henderson or his destruction of Alistair Overeem. Those of us that know enough about Minotouro to make fun of and criticize him also know enough to fondly remember and love him. Despite this last withdrawal – and even if he never fights again – the hardcores will remember him for his triumphs, not his press releases. That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever said about MMA fans.
Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at FightFansRadio.com, also available as a podcast via iTunes.